Interconnect Technologies

In spite of its popular use in existing Beowulfs, Ethernet-based networking is not the only technology choice for enabling internode communication. Other solutions exist that can deliver equal or better performance depending on the application. Fast Ethernet is a popular choice because of its ubiquity and consequent low price. A Fast Ethernet card costs only about 2 percent of the price of today's $1,000 Beowulf nodes. Only the network switches have a significant impact on the overall price of the system. With other networking technologies, each network interface card can cost as much as a 16-port Fast Ethernet switch. So you have to think carefully before committing to an alternative network. If the kinds of applications you intend to run require specific properties, such as low latency, which are not provided by Fast Ethernet, then it is likely worth the additional cost. For example, real-time image processing, parallel video streaming, and real-time transaction processing all require low latencies and do not work well with Fast Ethernet. We will briefly discuss the most common networking technologies used by Beowulf systems. Not enough data has been collected on application performance in systems using these technologies for us to comment on when each should be used.

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